Candy Man to be Rocket Man in Tampa Bay Derby?

Candy Man Rocket is the horse to beat in the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, but there are a number of challengers looking to improve their own standings on the Road to the Kentucky Derby...

One of three prep races to be run on Saturday, the $400,000 Tampa Bay Derby will wrap up the Tampa Bay Downs' contribution to the Road to the Kentucky Derby. The 1 1/16-mile race will award qualifying points on a 50-20-10-5 scale, with the winner all but assured an invitation to the first race in the Triple Crown.

Greatest Honour and Mandaloun, winners of the first two Championship Series contests, lead the point standings with 60 and 52 points respectively. They will both be running in the Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May.

Undefeated Essential Quality is third, with three consecutive wins in prep races and a total of 40 points, which should be enough to garner an invitation.

Candy Man Rocket a clear favorite

The favorite in the crowded 11 horse field on Saturday is Candy Man Rocket at 2/1 in the early odds. Candy Man Rocket was the winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on February 6. The William I. Mott-trained colt was methodically led to the front of the field by jockey Junior Alvarado entering the stretch, then held on to win by a length over Nova Rags.

He's joined by four other entrants that have at least a point in the qualifying series. This is led by Sittin On Go, the winner of the first prep points race back in September. Since winning the Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs, however, the colt trained by Dale Romans has failed to contend in three stakes races, including a sixth-place finish in the Holy Bull Stakes. This has him out at 20/1 for Saturday's race.

Hidden Stash made a late surge in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, just losing out on second place by a neck to Nova Rags. It was the first and only stakes race for the Victoria Oliver entry, which shouldn't be discounted from having a chance to avenge the defeat on the same track and is at 4/1.

Boca Boy at 15/1 has only raced once since September, knocking off the rust with a fourth-place finish in the Sam F. Davis Stakes, finishing four lengths behind Candy Man Rocket. The run gave him one qualifying point and without a lot of experience, poses somewhat of an unknown in the Tampa Bay Derby.

Moonlite Strike at 20/1 also has a point from a fourth place finish in the Smarty Jones Stakes at Oaklawn, his only stakes start.

An entry that is making their Kentucky Derby prep debut after a pair of wins at Woodbine, the latest in the Display Stakes on October 18, is Helium at 6/1. Despite the lack of race experience, Helium is still considered a contender for the Kentucky Derby. However, the effects of a four-and-a-half-month layoff from racing will be difficult to gauge, especially after an impressive four-length win at seven furlongs.

Promise Keeper is making his first start in a stakes race after a pair of maiden race wins in 2021 and is at 8/1. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt didn't race as a two-year-old but will be ridden by Luis Saez, who guided top Derby contender Essential Quality to victory in last week's Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park.